Handheld Computers in the field
What’s so special about it?
By Dr. Hans
Le Fever, eNovITe, The Netherlands
The advent of computing devices that can be easily carried
along, away from desks, power outlets and network cables has opened up a new
era of computing.
It provides digital capabilities for people whose place of
work is often or mostly outside the office. This can take the form of capturing
data, e.g. entering numbers such as meter readings or more
textual information such as equipment status.
But equally the new devices can provide information, for example instructions how to start or stop
a piece of equipment or drawings and other reference details.
Several advantages become clear once
information can be handled on the spot instead of remotely in an office or
data next to the machine prevents transcription errors that could occur
with the traditional method of recording on paper and
entering the data once back in the office. There is also an advantage in
making an immediate comparison with previous
readings. A break in the trend would either point to a reading mistake or
could indicate the need for further inspection.
gains can be expected from eliminating the need to trawl back to an office
for referencing drawings or equipment records. Even
if print-outs were taken along, often additional information is needed.
The digital device can have it stored or can retrieve via a wireless
- As a
source of information detailed procedural information literally at the
fingertips, the use of a more rigorous digital device could make a
contribution to compliance, thus mitigating the risks from procedural
The marketplace offers a wide variety of digital devices
that can support and enable the above mentioned benefits.
This ranges from mobile phones with added functionality to personal organisers or
PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistants).
Depending on the specific activities that are to be supported,
different digital handheld devices are needed. Specialist advice is required to
ensure the device meets all environmental
and ergonomic requirements are met.
Although the above mentioned benefits
seem generally applicable and achievable, their realisation does not come
automatically. A mobility project has a number of potential pitfalls that
differ from projects on desktop IT. Most significant points are:
buy-in for the acceptance of an application on handhelds is crucial. There
are too many examples of PDA loss, damage or malfunctioning to be
accidental. A range of worker fear factors lies behind this. A well
thought-out introduction strategy will take the change management
issue into account.
PDA differs significantly in capabilities from a laptop or desktop,
witness the lack of a mouse and its small screen size. This puts special
demands on the user interface of the application and it prohibits direct
transfer of desktop code to the PDA environment.
common with desktop applications, the true value of this kind of an investment
derives from having accurate data. Proper data management
practices are a critical success factor.
projects with wireless access to the corporate network, security is a
special challenge, technically as well as organisationally. In an implementation
project full cooperation is required from those responsible for network
the business case need to take into account rapid obsolescence of equipment
and long learning curves to full exploitation of the new capability.
In short, handheld computers in the field offer a great
opportunity for innovation in an area underserved by IT. Reaching that
potential requires a well thought out benefits realisation approach.